With unprecedented detail of well over half of the world's terrain already safely stored aboard, Endeavour's crew continued mapping the Earth uninterrupted this morning, marching toward more than nine full days of radar observations thanks to successful fuel conservation measures.
Early today, Endeavour completed its sixth "Flycast Maneuver" trim burn, a gentle engine firing that maintains the Shuttle's altitude at around 150 statute miles for the precise mapping work. Today's burn gave the Shuttle a slightly larger boost than previous daily firings, a measure that will allow controllers to save fuel by eliminating a subsequent firing on Sunday. The next trim burn is now planned for midday on Saturday. So far, the Shuttle Radar Topography instruments aboard Endeavour have mapped 83 percent, or almost 40 million square miles, of the target area once, an area larger than the Americas, Africa and Australia combined. More than 50 percent of the target area, over 24 million square miles, has been mapped with two or more passes. Endeavour images 40,000 square miles of land every minute, a rate that would allow the Shuttle to map the state of Alaska in 15 minutes and the state of Rhode Island in less than two seconds.
In addition to the changes in trim burns, other fuel conservation measures aboard Endeavour have included changing the way waste water is dumped overboard, slightly relaxing the spacecraft's stringent attitude control guidelines and limiting the use of some equipment. Early in the mission, the failure of a tiny thruster at the end of the 197-foot mast protruding from Endeavour's cargo bay resulted in increased use of the Shuttle's steering jets and fuel. On Thursday, flight controllers noted that the small nitrogen gas thruster on the mast now appeared to be again providing some thrust, a trend that could further improve the Shuttle's predicted fuel consumption.
While the radar mapping continues, a student-operated camera mounted in one of Endeavour's windows also has set a record pace. So far, the experiment, called EarthKAM, has sent down almost 1,400 photos of Earth to middle school students. On four previous shuttle flights combined, EarthKAM sent down a total of about 2,000 photos.
Working around the clock, Endeavour's crew is divided into two shifts. The Blue Team -- Pilot Dom Gorie and Mission Specialists Janice Voss and Mamoru Mohri -- are now on duty. Voss and Mohri took time out from their work this morning to provide television of the high-rate recorders used for the mapping operations and a High-Definition Television Camera.
The recorders use high-density tapes to capture the radar mapping data. About 270 tapes will be recorded, containing a volume of data that would fill about 13,500 CDs. The data will allow topographical maps to be created of a majority of Earth that will be several times more accurate than are available today. The HDTV camcorder aboard Endeavour is one of the first steps in NASA's transition to HDTV.
The Red Team, Commander Kevin Kregel and Mission Specialists Janet Kavandi and Gerhard Thiele, are sleeping and will awaken at 10:14 a.m. CST. The entire crew will participate in a press conference at 11:59 a.m. today, fielding questions from U.S. and Japanese reporters at NASA centers. Subsequently, Thiele, Kregel, Kavandi and Voss will take a call from German Research Minister Edelgard Buhlmann.
Endeavour continues to function well. The next status report will be issued at 6 p.m. Friday, or as mission events warrant.
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